State smoking age rising to 21 in 2020

Legislature approves change

The legal age to use tobacco and vapor products in Washington state is going up to 21 from 18 in 2020.

The state Senate voted 33-12 on Wednesday in Olympia to pass the legislation, requested by Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the state Department of Health and sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver. Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue, sponsored the companion Senate bill. The House of Representatives passed the bill with a vote of 66-30 on Feb. 20.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who has long supported the legislation, has promised to sign the bill. The bill goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Washington is the ninth state to raise the age of sale of tobacco and vapor products to 21. Ferguson first introduced the bill in 2015. If the bill had passed in the 2015 legislative session, Washington would have been the first state to raise the age.

Since then, California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah and Virginia, along with more than 450 cities and counties nationwide, have raised the tobacco sale age to 21. Legislation is moving in Illinois and New York that will raise the age to 21.

“By passing this bill, the Legislature is saving thousands of Washingtonians from a lifetime of addiction and smoking-related illnesses,” said Ferguson in a news release. “Because 18- to 20-year-olds supply younger teens with tobacco and vape products, this will reduce the number of cigarettes and vape products in our high schools, which will lead to fewer kids getting addicted. I want to thank the large bipartisan group of elected leaders, health advocates, businesses, educators, students and parents for helping us make this happen.

“Addressing the heavy toll of tobacco-related disease, both in human lives and health care costs, moves us closer to being able to provide universal access to affordable health care for all Washingtonians.”

“The movement to reduce consumption of tobacco among Americans was one of the most costly and successful public health efforts in our history, but the rise of vaping products targeting young people undermines the progress we had fought to achieve for generations,” Kuderer said. “We all know someone who has struggled with the serious health consequences of using tobacco products. I’m proud that today we have taken a stand together to interrupt the cycle of addiction before it even begins.”

A coalition of nearly 80 organizations, businesses and municipalities supported Ferguson’s Tobacco 21 legislation, including the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, the YMCA, the Washington State PTA and the Washington State Board of Health.

The bill does not penalize youth possession.

The first city in the country to raise the smoking age, Needham, Mass., saw a more than 50 percent reduction in tobacco use among high school students in the years following passage of the law.

More than 95 percent of addicted smokers begin smoking before age 21, according to the Ferguson news release. Without this change, tobacco addiction would have shortened the lives of 104,000 kids alive in Washington state today — the equivalent of nearly 30 busloads per legislative district.

Additionally, more than $2.8 billion in annual health care costs are directly attributable to tobacco use in the state. The average Washington household currently pays $789 in taxes each year due to smoking-related health care — even if nobody in that household smokes.

Emma Epperly writes for the WNPA Olympia News Bureau

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